Memoirs of my Travels: The Hills of Manipur
I spent around 15-20 days of summer vacations during the year 1999, journeying through some very exotic locations in India. My travels during that time took me to two states in the North-Eastern corner of the country, and they were Manipur and Nagaland. My father was posted in Zakhama, a small village in Nagaland, but was on a temporary duty in Leimakhong, Manipur for a month.
Only a few days of his duty in Leimakhong remained and we planned the trip in a way that we would be able to stay 3 days in Manipur and then move to Nagaland along with Dad. I will try to write the memoirs of this trip as accurately as possible. Since this happened more than a decade ago, I don’t claim to remember each and every detail. Some places and names might elude my diction.
The journey to Imphal was by air. An Indian Airline jet took us to Calcutta and there we hopped into a much smaller plane (it was a 20 seater), and though the journey lasted around half an hour, we were pretty cramped up in there.
Imphal, the capital of Manipur is a small city situated in a valley surrounded by small hills of the eastern Himalayan Range. Several small rivers run through this valley town including the Imphal River.
Our first stop in Imphal was at the Japanese War Cemetery and the English War Cemetery. Battle of Imphal along with Battle of Kohima was a turning point in the Burma Campaign, a chapter in the history of World War 2. Japan was advancing forward and had her eyes on Invading India, but was defeated at Imphal and Kohima and after that her armies were in continuous retreat.
The two war cemeteries are a reminder of the brutal conflict that took place and a glorious tribute to the braves who laid down their lives. It is a peaceful and serene place with headstones arranged in a geometrical pattern. The writing on the tombstones will fill you with emotions.
Next stop was at Kangla Fort, an important landmark in the history of Manipur. A major political and religious centre, it was the seat of power for the Kings of Manipur for a long time. Each king expanded the fort and added his own unique improvements over the original. During World War 2, it was the war headquarters for Field Marshall William Slim. After the war and till 2004 it was the home of the Assam Rifles.
The State Museum and the Polo Ground are in a very close proximity to each other. Polo ground is a must visit because it is the world’s oldest in existence.
A unique market in Imphal is Khwairamband Bazar or also referred to as Buddhiya Bazar (This name was not given to it by the locals). It is a street with both sides littered with shops selling different items. The uniqueness of this market comes from the fact that all shops are owned and run by women and no male is allowed to sit in the market. Some may shout women empowerment
and others may cry sexual discrimination, but those are the rules of the land or rather the street.
Another big attraction of the city is the topiary created by Mr. Moirangthem Okendra Kumbi (Thank you Google for the name). It is, according to the Guinness Book of Records the world’s tallest.Topiary is the art of sculpting and clipping trees and shrubs to create ornamental landscapes. The one in Imphal i.e. the world’s tallest is created as a series of spheres and umbrellas and is made of a local shrub called Sambanilei Sekpil.
In between we made a visit to a local handloom factory where they weaved the silk threads into beautiful sheets of cloth. Another important visit was at a private art gallery. The gallery was owned and maintained by the artist where he had on display his own work. They were some of the most beautiful paintings I had ever seen. I can’t remember the place and neither am I able to recall the name of the artist. It was a bit away from the city and towards the village of Leimakhong where we were staying, and hence not many people visited the place. But it was a pretty good discovery.
A Zoo and a few important temples are also present but I am afraid I don’t remember much about them.
A few notes on the place where we stayed during our stay in Manipur. It was a small village called Leimakhong, some 20 km from Imphal. It is a beautiful country side close enough to the city to get all worldly supplies and has a distance enough to ensure that it is far from the maddening crowd. An Army division is stationed there and beyond that it is a rather sleepy place. The scenic beauty is its biggest attraction.
For me the most famous memory of Leimakhong was the momos (type of samosas, but smaller and spherical in size and they are steamed not fried), a hospital nurse working in the Army and was a local, prepared for us on our final day of stay. It was the first time I had had the dish, which was relatively unknown in Delhi at that time and the sauce she made was quite mind blowing. The filling of the momos was pork. An important culinary secret is that the left over momos are fried next morning and eaten in breakfast.
A memory of Imphal was that almost every house had a pond, small or large in their backyards where they fish. Small fishes miraculously appear in the ponds during rains. The locals used a strange contraption for capturing the gilled creatures, which can best be described as the sawed off mast and sails of a sailing boat. Actually it is a type of Chinese fishing net but much smaller in size. And not very effective if I may add, because many times, even after a whole day of patiently waiting they hardly caught anything worth a nibble. Reason why the old fishing lady was quite happy when we decided to share our picnic meal with her. She said something in her language with a smile and I believe they were not abuses.
After three days in Manipur we moved towards Zakhama………..to be continued.